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Five things to watch in Rivalry Night doubleheader

by Brian Compton

The Chicago Blackhawks have won back-to-back games and are four points shy of second place in the Central Division. The Detroit Red Wings have lost three in a row and are about to begin a grueling six-game road trip against Western Conference teams.

Chicago (35-18-4) has earned points in six straight games, including a 2-1 shootout victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday. The Red Wings have scored five goals over their three-game skid. Detroit (31-14-10), which is coming off a 2-0 loss against the Montreal Canadiens on Monday, trail Montreal by six points in the Atlantic Division and the second-place Tampa Bay Lightning by four.

The Blackhawks, who are 2-0-2 in the first half of their eight-game homestand, will try to continue their winning ways when they host the Red Wings in the first game of a Wednesday Night Rivalry doubleheader at United Center (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports).

In the nightcap, the Los Angeles Kings will face the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center (NBCSN, 10 p.m. ET). Los Angeles (26-18-12) extended its win streak to five with a 3-2 victory against the Lightning on Monday. The surge has allowed the Kings to pull within two points of the San Jose Sharks for the second wild-card spot in the West. The Avalanche (24-22-11) will be seeking their third straight win after defeating the Arizona Coyotes 5-2 on Monday.

Here are five things to watch in the two Wednesday Night Rivalry games:

1. Hossa's rolling

Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa is playing arguably his best hockey of the season. Hossa was named the NHL's First Star of the Week on Monday after four consecutive multi-point games, a streak that ended Sunday against Pittsburgh.

Hossa had a League-leading five goals last week and helped Chicago earn six of a possible eight points. He has 17 goals and 25 assists in 57 games.

"When you get on a little streak, you get a little bit hotter and it gives you more confidence," Hossa told reporters Tuesday. "You start feeling much better."

2. Second chance for Pulkkinen

Searching for more offense after being shut out by the Canadiens on Monday, the Red Wings recalled left wing Teemu Pulkkinen from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League. A fourth-round draft pick in 2010, Pulkkinen is the first player in Grand Rapids history to have back-to-back 30-goal seasons. He leads the AHL with 57 points.

Pulkkinen made his NHL debut last season and scored during a brief stint with the Red Wings earlier this season while Tomas Jurco was out because of back spasms. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is hoping to see more from the 23-year-old this time around.

"He's shown he's very, very good in the American Hockey League," Babcock said Tuesday, according to the Red Wings website. "You're always looking for goals. We're always looking to improve our roster. If he can help us, he's got to take someone's job, just like everyone else. We have lots of guys coming up, some stay and some don't. We think (Pulkkinen) is a real good player. … Let's give him an opportunity to be a real good player."

3. Another tough test for Blackhawks 'D'

On Sunday, the Blackhawks had the difficult task of trying to shut down the likes of Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It won't get any easier Wednesday.

The Red Wings boast the NHL's best power play (26 percent), thanks to star players such as Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Gustav Nyquist leads Detroit with 12 power-play goals.

The bulk of the load obviously will fall on Chicago's top defense pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. But coach Joel Quenneville liked what he saw from Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya on Sunday and will require a similar performance from the latter two against the Red Wings.

"They get big minutes against those top guys," Quenneville told reporters Tuesday. "You're paired against Crosby one night and the next night you look at a Zetterberg or a Datsyuk. With [Oduya] and [Hjalmarsson], they get a lot of that responsibility. When that D-pairing shuts down top lines, it really enhances our team to have success."

Dwight King
Left Wing - LAK
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 10 | PTS: 20
SOG: 89 | +/-: -2
4. A new "That 70s Line" for Kings

With forward Tanner Pearson recovering from an ankle injury, a new version of "That 70s Line" has evolved, and it's currently one of the best acts in Hollywood.

Dwight King (No. 74), Jeff Carter (No. 77) and Tyler Toffoli (No. 73) have combined for 10 goals and 11 assists in the Kings' past five games, including three points in the victory against Tampa Bay on Monday. King, who had 30 points in 77 games in 2013-14, has 10 goals and 10 assists in 55 games. He brings a career-high four-game point streak into Pepsi Center. Carter also has a four-game point streak.

"Confidence is climbing, that's for sure," King told the Orange County Register. "It's nice, but it's one of those things that you've got to take game by game, because it can go away just as fast as it came."

5. Avalanche aiming to close gap

The Avalanche have their work cut out for them if they hope to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They'll enter the game Wednesday seven points behind San Jose for the second wild-card spot.

But Los Angeles is also chasing the Sharks for a postseason position, which makes this showdown so vital.

"Every day we come to the rink, we're focused on that next two [points]," center Matt Duchene told the Denver Post. "We've played pretty well recently. Even that New York game (a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers last Thursday), I thought we played pretty well and could have had two points there. We'll continue to press forward."


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